The Porcelain Cat

It was recess. I was standing under the sycamore tree, feeling woozy. I’d spent too long hanging upside down on the monkey bars. I was just about sure I wasn’t going to ralph when she walked by.

New kid, I didn’t know her name. Parents just moved here from out-of-state. Seemed a friendly, girl. Today she was all sniffles and tears. I hated seeing a girl cry, it took the fun out of recess

“What’s wrong, kid?”

“I lost my cat.”

“It ran away?”

“No,” she sobbed, “not a real cat. A statue, made of porcelain. All white with a little pink bow, playing with a ball of yarn. It was my grandma’s. My parents told me I couldn’t bring it to school but I did anyway ‘cause I wanted to show someone. Only now it’s gone.”

That’s when the water works really got going. I didn’t know what to do, so I tried to sound helpful. “Hold on now… what’s your name anyway?”

“Matilda.”

“Alright Matilda, I know my way around the schoolyard. Where’d you see it last?”

“Miss Marshall’s class, she made me put it in my cubby. I was gonna get it out to bring it to recess to show it to Jenny. I told her about how cute it was and she begged me to bring it in so she could see it.” She wiped her nose with a sleeve and snorted hard trying to get a hold of herself.

“Which Jenny are you talking about?” There were three Jenny’s in our grade but I was pretty sure I knew which one she was going to say.

***

Jenny Billings. Everyone in our grade called her Miss Kitty, and she didn’t mind it either. Everything she owned had cats on it. From her Hello Kitty back pack to the homework folder printed with glossy pictures of kittens all over it. Kids said she even brought her own bandaids from home. So she didn’t have to wear the plain ones the nurse handed out when she scraped a knee. We never really got to be friends, mostly because I liked dogs.

I found her by the slide. She got all snooty when I asked he about the cat.

“Matilda told me about her kitty statue. It sounded so cute. I asked her to bring it in for me to see. She never showed it to me though. She said she couldn’t find it, that it got lost or something. I couldn’t tell she was too busy crying. I don’t even think she really brought it in. Maybe she just made it up so I’d be friends with her,. New kids are always telling lies so people will like them, but I don’t make friends with just anyone you know. They have to love kitties as much as I do.”

“C’mon Jenny, you sure you ain’t seen it. I bet you’d do anything to get your hands on a thing like that. Matilda says you begged her to bring it in.”

“I never begged.” she put her fists on her hips and huffed. “She said she’d show it to me and that’s all. Besides, I haven’t been anywhere near Miss Marshall’s class today.”

***

I could tell I wasn’t getting anywhere with Miss Kitty, so I headed off back to the shade tree where Matilda was waiting. She looked so hopeful when she saw me coming. That look went away when I told her that Jenny was a dead end. I even check with my friend Jimmy, the hall monitor. He hadn’t seen Jenny on that side of the school all morning.

“So it’s gone, forever?” The tears welled up again and she started to wail.

I never could stand to watch another kid go all rubbery. So, I made faces at her till she couldn’t help but laugh, and she slugged me in the arm to get me to stop.

“Look, Matty, it that bad yet. Think, when did you check on it last?”

“Just before reading.”

“Do you stay in Miss Marshall’s for that?”

“No, I have reading in Mrs. Dillard’s room.”

“And, that’s right before lunch right? So now all we got to do is think of someone who stays in Miss Marshall’s for reading. They might have seen if someone took it.”

“You really think someone stole my porcelain cat?”

“I doubt it walked away. Now who do you think might have seen something?”

“Jeremy,” she said excitedly, “and his desk is towards the back. You can see the cubbies from there.”

***

Jeremy Reynolds, was the type of kid that would eat just about anything if you promised him whatever you had lying around in your pocket. Especially if it meant grossing out a few of the other kids. He always drew a crowd. I waited for him to stop chewing before I walked up.

“You’ve got reading with Miss Marshall. You see anyone messing around over by the cubbies today?”

“Why should I tell you?” A smile crept across his face “I mean, what’s it worth?”

I didn’t like some schoolyard sideshow trying to get smart, so I got mean with him.

“Listen doofus, I ain’t got all recess. If you know something helpful, there’s a couple of Garbage Pail Kid cards in it. But, if you keep messin’ around the next thing this playground is gonna watch you eat is a knuckle sandwich.”

Jeremy swallowed hard. “Mickey, Mickey Donnelly. I don’t know about cubbies but, he kept getting up to sharpen his pencil, three or four times. Teacher fussed at him.”

“That’s it? That’s all you saw?” I turned to walk away, “Thanks for nothing.”

“What about those cards.”

“I said two cards if you could help, and you can’t. You’re lucky I don’t give you a wedgie for wasting my time. Tell you what here’s one for your trouble, now scram.”

***

I found Matilda over by the merry-go-round. Poor thing, she thought that if she got dizzy enough her problems would just fly away. I couldn’t blame her. We’ve all taken a few extra spins when the chips were down. I sat on the edge of it with her as it spun to a stop, and told her that Jeremy didn’t know anything.

“Maybe he took it?”

“Nah, he might be a greedy, bug-eating creep but, he’s too much of a fraidy cat to steal something.”

“So, there’s nothing else we can do?”

“We can not use the same pencils as Mickey Donnelly.”

“What?”

“Jeremy said he kept getting up to sharpen his.” That’s when it hit me. The thing that didn’t add up. “Wait a minute who needs to sharpen a pencil three times when you’re just reading?”

“My cubby is right under the pencil sharpener” Her eyes widened with hope.

“Come on Matty, Recess is almost over.”

***

We bolted across the playground. Mickey was the tallest kid in our grade, it wasn’t had to spot him at the sandpit, hanging out with his knuckle head friends. They liked to act like they owned that place. Jenny Billings was there too. The sandbox seemed a rough place for little Miss Kitty .

“Fancy seeing you here Jenny”

Jenny stuck her nose in the air and looked away. “Mickey and I are old friends.”

“Friends? Sure, you both like cats. Maybe porcelain ones?”

“Go away before I pound you runt” Mickey slammed his fist into his own open hand.

“You’re not pounding anyone. Give me the cat. We can all walk away. No one gets in trouble. You don’t want to get into trouble do you Mickey?”

Mickey lunged forward swinging. I was used to dealing with angry oafs from being punched on by older brothers. I stepped aside and stuck my foot out. Mickey tripped and fell over catching a mouthful of sand.

Something white tumbled out of his pocket, the soft ground breaking its fall.

Jenny grabbed it and started to back away..

“Give it here Jenny, we can all just go back to class.”

“No,” She screamed. “The kitty is mine now.”

I started to move towards her but Mickey had got back to his feet. He grabbed me, throwing me to the ground. I tried to roll away but he landed his knee on top of me. This is where I get clobbered, I thought, shutting my eyes.

There was a shrill sound and everything stopped. Hall monitor Jimmy came running up with Coach Davis waddling behind him tweeting on his whistle. Mickey got off me and just sat in the sand. He knew the drill. Jenny didn’t, she turned and ran.

Straight into Miss Marshall.

First they tried to blame me. When they couldn’t keep the story straight they blamed each other. It didn’t matter.

Jimmy already told the teachers what was going on, like I asked him.

When the day was over, Matty got her porcelain cat, and the two of them got a trip to the principal’s office.

This story was written in response to a Flash Fiction Challenge issued by Chuck Wendig at his blog Terrible Minds. You can check out the other entries in the comments there
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A Long Walk, a Good Talk, Ice Cream, and a Giant Fish

This past Sunday the clocks needed to be set forward for Daylight Saving Time, my daughter asked me to take her to the park, and my wife asked for the third time this week if I would mow the back yard. These are sure signs that spring is trying to poke its head out from under the blanket of winter weather.

Well my phone is my primary time-keeper, so it sorted itself out, and I had no desire to spend any part of the day walking behind a noisy machine that spewes exhaust fumes and grass clippings at me on my first weekend day off in close to a year; so, a father/ daughter day at the park seemed about my speed. This also provided me with a convenient excuse not to venture to the urgent care place to investigate this respiratory illness that has been causing me some discomfort for nearly two weeks now.

The local park is a wonderful affair with a large well maintained, and rather cool looking playground and jungle gym.

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Once we arrived my role in the afternoons activities was reduced to that of pusher of the swing and I watched as my daughter chased after children her own age and showed off to the younger ones and tried to coax the shy ones out of their shells. While I love watching my little extrovert at work I couldn’t help feeling ignored and left out. I tried to strike up conversation with some of the other parents but most were too busy hovering a few feet away from their kids in case, heaven forfend, they fall, or try to go down the slide backwards.

Extrication from the playground was made possible by the promise of ice cream. a dirty trick I know, but  jealousy got the best of me and, I wanted be able to actually talk with the daughter I barely see. A half mile walk was a pleasant way to recap the playtime and speculate on our ice cream choices, I even received an unsolicited “I love you dad” and a huge smile.

Over our dishes of frozen sugar we discussed the relative merits of vanilla chocolate chip, versus strawberry, and it was agreed that the chocolate chip was the clear winner. The remaining discussion ranged from what was the best part about school to the impending birthday she had coming up in just a few days with, including few direct statements about what she would like.

When presented with the option of taking the direct or scenic route home my girl chose the longer of the two, the way she hadn’t seen before. The extra time was filled with sudden interest in when I was a boy and where I grew up.

I told her some about the small town where I spent my childhood and the schools I went to. How, like her, recess was my favorite class. It led to discussion about how even though she had two aunts that lived up north only one of them was my sister. It took two tries for her to get her head wrapped around the fact that her other aunt was my sister’s wife. In the end she simply accepted this, even though it was outside of her realm of what was typically expected.

An awkward moment came when she asked about my parents. Honesty made explain that they has died. The conversation included the fact that my father died of cancer caused by smoking.

I quit about two years ago, my wife has not. So when Kate pointed this out I just told her that I would like her mom to stop smoking, she just wasn’t ready to do it yet, and left it at that. My daughter asked me is she was going to smoke when she was older, and I said that she didn’t have to, and I rather that she didn’t because it was really bad for her. She thought about it for a moment, with a serious look on and finally agreed.

The seriousness of the moment was broken when she realized, with an excited gasp, that our long meandering journey had taken us all the way back to the other side of the park. The sun was going down and most of the other kids had gone home, but we stopped and played some more anyway.

Sunsetfish

It was early evening before we set off home to a dinner of take out from our favorite taqueria. As we strolled I was satisfied in the knowledge that, time would march on despite the pointless lunacy of mucking about with clocks, that I had properly shirked my landscaping duties, and that for one glorious rare afternoon I got to spend a few hours just being a dad.

Just one thing still puzzles me and it has been bothering me for a long time…

Why a fish?

Why a  giant fish?